Is your fireplace tired and dated? If so, then a fireplace makeover may be in your future. Sometimes the fix is very simple— several coats of white paint on old bricks or a worn oak mantel is often enough to give the fireplace a fresh new look. But sometimes a more dramatic change is desired. If that’s the case for you, your only limitations are your imagination, and of course, your budget, as there are myriad choices of materials available, from traditional to modern.

Your first decision is whether to keep your wood-burning fireplace or have a gas insert installed. To keep our air clean, California has instituted many restrictions on the use of wood-burning fireplaces, so converting to gas may be the right decision for you. Depending on their size, gas inserts can provide heat for 1000-3000 square feet, while also emitting very little pollution and smoke into the air. They are also very convenient to use. Just flip a switch, or press a button on the remote control and you’ll have a lovely fire in seconds.

If you have not been shopping for tile or stone recently, you’ll be amazed at how many choices you have for your fireplace. If you prefer natural materials, among your many choices are marble, granite, slate, limestone, and stacked stone, all of which are available in a wide variety of sizes and shapes. There is also a large selection of unique materials available: metal tiles in stainless steel and copper, glass tiles, and porcelain and ceramic tiles in every color, style and shape imaginable.

For contemporary styling, consider large porcelain tiles with some wavy textures, or narrow stacked stone. With this style, less is definitely more, so forgo the heavy wood mantel and keep your lines very clean and simple.

For traditional styling, look at natural stone such as marble, which is a very classic and timeless material, and add a beautiful, ornate wood surround in white painted, or dark stained wood. Curved lines and carved details are common features in traditional decor.

Most of us prefer “transitional” styling, which is a blend of both traditional and contemporary. Clean lines, combined with traditional colors and materials allow for a look that pleases just about everyone. “Floating” mantel ledges are a great choice for transitional rooms the lean toward contemporary, while full wood surrounds with simple lines works best in transitional rooms that lean toward traditional.

The possibilities are endless, so consider your overall decorating style, look at lots of photos for inspiration, and treat your fireplace to a whole new look.


Many people find it challenging to combine different colors and patterns when shopping for new furnishings. They feel more comfortable purchasing a matching sofa, loveseat and chair, for example. However, mixing colors and patterns makes a room much more interesting, and it is not as difficult as it may seem.


As a general rule, vary the patterns in your room by including small-, medium- and large-scale designs. An example would be a large geometric, a midsize floral, and a narrow stripe. If one of the patterns is large-scale, like the wide stripes on the walls in the living room shown, look for small- and medium-scale patterns for the other pieces. And remember that all of the patterns in the space do not need to be bold— they can certainly be subtle and understated, with soft colored and muted designs.


I always like to incorporate solid colors and fabrics with tone-on-tone patterns and textures in my designs. They add interest without adding a lot of pattern, and offer a break to the eyes. Consider using textural fabrics such as velvet, silk, linen, chenille, tweed, boucle, leather, suede and metallics to boost the interest level in the room. Use the colors from busiest of the patterns as a jumping off point for the other fabrics. For example, if you have a chair upholstered in a paisley print, use a geometric design, like a herringbone, stripe, diamond or pin-dot pattern for your sofa that includes two or more of those colors. Then perhaps a leather ottoman or velvet pillows, or linen curtains.

Additional patterned fabrics can be used for dining room chair cushions, accent pillows, window treatments, and ottomans, or you can repeat one of the fabrics you’ve already used. For example, make some accent pillows out of the drapery fabric for the sofa or the chairs. And while you’re at it, make one or two additional accent pillows in the chair fabric for the sofa. Pillows are a great way to tie all the furniture pieces together. Add some texture to the pillows by trimming them with a variegated fringe that incorporates two or three colors in the room.


Aim for a coordinated, blended look, rather than a “matchy-matchy” look. By selecting a variety of coordinated colors and patterns, your room will be unique and interesting.

For a variety of reasons, some living rooms are difficult to furnish. Maybe the room is too small, or even too large, or just awkwardly laid out. Or maybe you’d just like a new idea for furniture arrangement. Instead of your typical sofa, try a grouping of chairs instead.  Here are some reasons to try this arrangement in your house:

  1. When your fireplace is awkwardly placed. A fireplace is often the focal point of the room, but if it is off in a corner, or is splitting your room in two, then mostly likely, a sofa facing it will not work. A grouping of two or four chairs might work better, and still provide the same amount of seating as a sofa. 
  2. When your living room is small, with no obvious spot for a sofa. If this is the case, then bring the furniture away from the walls with a cluster of four chairs around a coffee table. This creates an intimate and conversational seating arrangement.
  3. When the focal point is something grand, like a piano, for example. In the photo, you’ll notice the stunning black grand piano, which is definitely the center of attention in this amazing living room. The group of four teal chairs fits nicely alongside the piano, perfect for listening to music and conversation.
  4. When you need a flexible seating arrangement. Let’s say you often have gatherings at your house and need to be able to move or expand the seating area easily, or clear the floorspace. Chairs are much easier to move around than are large sofas. 

Some guidelines when planning your space and before you make your purchases:

  1. Measurements are key— you don’t want chairs that are too large! Measure your space carefully, and err on the side of narrower and shallower, over wider and deeper. 
  2. Chairs should coordinate in terms of color and style, but they don’t necessarily have to match. If you’re not sure what to do, though, go for matching chairs. Or perhaps two different chairs, but in the same fabric. If you choose two different chairs, make sure they are the same height and width, give or take an inch or two. You don’t want two of the chairs to dwarf the other two. 
  3. Make sure the chairs are comfortable. If you’re forgoing a comfy sofa, you want to make sure the chairs are just as comfortable. 

There are no interior design rule that says a living room must have a sofa, so look objectively at your space and see if this type of seating arrangement will work for you.


Before (scroll down for after pictures)

This kitchen transformation is striking. What once was a dark and isolated space is now an open, light-filled, beautiful great room. The first item on their wish list was removing the wall separating the kitchen from the living room. This young couple wanted to be able to entertain friends and family, and be part of the festivities, rather than be relegated to the kitchen. Fortunately, we were able to do that for them, and the result is a large, open-concept great room, where everyone can be together.

Second on their wish list was enhanced functionality, in terms of increased storage space and counter space. To achieve this, I recommended changing the locations of the sink and cooktop. The large farmhouse sink is now under the front window (the new window stayed the same width as the old one, but became shorter to accommodate the wall of cabinetry and backsplash). By moving the cooktop to the old sink location we gained several feet of counter space on both sides, and we also gained a second oven, in place of the old one-piece range.

The island provides even more functionality. Notice the microwave drawer in the island— this frees up space on the counters, and still keeps it in a convenient location near the cooking area and the breakfast bar. The new island is great for serving food and drinks when friends come over, and, on a day-to-day basis, provides a lovely spot for drinking coffee and watching the birds out the front window.

 

Probably the biggest benefit in the new kitchen is the increased amount of storage space. Between the Lazy Susan in the corner, and the pull-out cabinet for utensils near the cooktop, large drawers for pots and pans under the cooktop, the large upper cabinets flanking the sink, the pantry cabinet with adjustable pull-out shelves by the fridge, and the extra space in the island, my clients have ample space for everything. I think my client said it best when she texted me while she was putting away all of her things: “Holy potatoes we have a TON of storage in this kitchen!!!!!”

To unify the living room and new kitchen, we extended the wood flooring throughout the entire space, and used the same paint colors in both rooms. The teal and yellow accent colors add a welcome pop of brightness to the calming white and gray color scheme. I was very happy working on this project, and am thrilled with the results. The new space is very warm, welcoming and fun, just like the clients.

When it comes to interior design, many people find it easier to tell you what they don’t like rather than what they do like. Can you describe your own design style? Are you traditional? Modern? Contemporary? Classic? One reason it’s so difficult for us to pin down one particular style is that most of us, at least here in California, tend to gravitate toward a mix of styles. Seldom do I see (or design, for that matter) a room that’s 100% one way or another. Have a look at these kitchens and you’ll see what I mean. In each example, there is a blend of elements, materials and finishes, all fitting the personalities and lifestyles of the clients who own them.

icp_9673“Traditional” and “Classic” elements– In some traditional and classic kitchens, you’ll find natural wood cabinets, and in others you’ll see painted cabinetry. Both types can fit into traditional décor. Painted cabinetry is often glazed or antiqued to give it more character, and wood finishes tend toward the dark, formal and dramatic. Color schemes tend toward neutrals like earth tones and black and white. Traditional kitchens often feature beautiful millwork, such as crown molding and embellished cabinets. Decorative corbels supporting breakfast bar countertops, and furniture-style toe kicks are definitely elements of a traditional kitchen. So are custom wood hood vent surrounds. You might see farmhouse (also called apron-front) sinks, and elegant plumbing fixtures. You’ll often see luxurious materials like marble tile backsplashes and natural stone counters.

icp_5858“Contemporary” and “Modern” elements– Contemporary kitchens might also feature natural wood or painted cabinetry, but the door style is much simpler, less ornate, with cleaner lines. Very modern cabinets might have a high-gloss lacquered finish in white or black or a bold color like orange. Shaker style or flat-front (also called slab) cabinetry is very popular for contemporary and modern kitchens, and in some kitchens, you’ll even see wood grain running horizontally rather than vertically. Mixing natural and man-made materials is also common. For example, you’ll see sleek quartz countertops paired with marble tile backsplashes, or granite counters combined with glass tile. Decorative light fixtures and pops of color are also characteristic of a contemporary kitchen. Faucets and sinks will be simple and unadorned, often stainless steel.

icp_1627Distressed wood floors and heavily textured stone backsplashes are two popular features you might see in today’s contemporary kitchens. A strategically selected rustic element can soften the look of a very modern kitchen and make it more casual and livable. For example, combining hand-scraped, distressed wood floors with sleek, crisp cabinetry creates an interesting juxtaposition, and also provides a practical walking surface for busy families with kids and pets. Unless the entire kitchen is designed intentionally as a rustic mountain cabin, the addition of one or two rustic elements does not make the kitchen any less contemporary.

All of this brings me to “transitional” design—a very popular term used today to describe a design style that I think most of us can relate to very well. I define transitional design as a successful blend of both traditional and contemporary elements. I think that all of these kitchens shown can be described as transitional kitchens. Some may lean a bit more traditional or more contemporary, but none is a pure example of any one style. These days, unless you really know undoubtedly which style you prefer, chances are you’ll feel right at home in a transitional kitchen, blending elements of traditional, classic and contemporary styling.

You undoubtedly have heard of rhythm as it relates to music. But did you know that rhythm is also an important concept in interior design? Rhythm in interior design refers to the illusion of movement through a space. Rhythm keeps the eyes traveling around the room and makes a room look lively and interesting. Rhythm in a room can be created in a number of ways:

  • repititionRepetition of a design element such as shape, color, texture, line or pattern. For example, think of a striped fabric pattern in which the colors yellow, red and brown repeat. The repetition of colors and lines implies a sense of movement and rhythm. As another example, a trio of woven baskets on a shelf shows repetition of texture. As I look in my own living and dining rooms, I see my accent color, blue, repeated around the room: a cobalt blue glass floor vase, navy and cream pillows on the sofa, a blue platter on the coffee table, and navy fabric on the dining chair seats. This repetition of color leads the eye to all of the different elements in the room, tying them all together.
  • gradationGradation refers to the gradual movement from a low point to a high point or from high to low. In interior redesign we often refer to the concept of “peaks and valleys,” which means that the furniture and accessories are arranged to create highs and lows. Think of three candles on the dining table ranging in size from short to tall. Or think of a tabletop arrangement in which the eye travels from the top of a tall lampshade down to a shorter framed photo, down to a velvet-covered box.
  • Transition— Curved lines are a good example of this type of rhythm. With a curved line, your eye gently transitions, or travels, from one object to another. Think of a camelback sofa, for example, a curved headboard, or an archway.
  • transitionOpposition— Using opposites can create an interesting and pleasing effect in your decor. Using colors opposite each other on the color wheel is one example of oppositional rhythm. Complementary colors such as purple and yellow, for example can create a jarring, yet desirable effect. Pairing black and white, always a classic combination in home decor, is another great look in a room. Mixing textures, such as pairing a smooth leather sofa with a rough slate-topped coffee table, is another example of oppositional rhythm.
  • radiationRadiation— This type of rhythm refers to several objects repeated around a center object creating a circular pattern. For example, think of a chandelier in which crystals surround the centerpiece of the light fixture. Dining chairs around a dining table is another simple example.

Take a look around your home for evidence of rhythm. Could you rearrange a few pieces to create highs and lows? Could you find ways to repeat your accent color in different areas in the room? With a few changes, your room could be a symphony of beautiful music.

ICP_7019This living room recently underwent a makeover. The client was ready to move on from all white walls and the furniture he’d had since college. The end result is a colorful, contemporary and comfortable space where he can relax and also entertain family and friends. If you’re looking to redecorate your living room, feel free to use the following tips as inspiration.

  • Design the space as it suits your lifestyle, not necessarily how the builder intended. For example, the builder designed this space to be a combination living room and dining room. Not being one to host formal dinner parties, my client didn’t need the dining room. Instead we decided to extend the living room into that space, which allowed us to bring in a large sectional. ICP_7039
  • Add color! I used a palette of three cool colors in the design: gray, blue, and teal. The bold teal accent color adds a huge pop. I used it on the back wall (and it extends into the kitchen eating area as well), as well as on the large stairwell wall. All three colors appear throughout the entire downstairs and into the upstairs hallway, which creates a cohesive look. 
  • Repeat the colors in your color scheme. My colors are repeated throughout the room in various tints, tones and shades. You’ll notice the charcoal gray sectional, teal pillows, the variety of blues in the area rug and artwork. In the kitchen, my client can sit at his breakfast bar on teal leather stools. 
  • Incorporate an interesting mix of materials and textural finishes. You’ll notice I brought in a variety of materials: leather, wood, iron, and glass. You’ll also notice a variety of textures: the coffee table is rustic wood, the console table is sleek metal and glass; the wood blinds have a rustic, wire-brushed type of finish, the wool rug is soft and thick. Mixing materials creates a layered, much more interesting look than if everything matched.
  • ICP_7029Use an area rug. I selected the area rug in this room for three reasons: it supports my color scheme, it adds softness and warmth to the room (and another texture), and it also defines the sitting area. Use a rug large enough to fill the space. I’ve noticed in some homes I visit, that the area rugs are too small.  A rug that is too small can make a room look choppy and haphazard. To help determine what size rug you need, measure the entire seating area and get the size that comes closest to that. In this room, for example, the sectional is eight feet by ten feet long; I selected an area rug that is also 8’ x 10’. It fills the space beautifully.ICP_7044
  • Finish the room with artwork and accessories. The new étagère holds family photos and accessories, the walls are adorned with large, eye-catching art pieces, and now the room is complete. May my client enjoy his new living room for years to come. 

Looking back on the design projects I completed in 2015 gives me some insight into what clients will be asking for in 2016. Here are some of the most common requests from last year that I see continuing this year as well. As you plan your own remodeling and redecorating projects, keep these in mind.

Improved lighting throughout the house

ICP_5920This is an extremely common request, no matter what the project entails. All over the house we are improving the lighting by adding LED recessed can lights—in baths, bedrooms, kitchens, living spaces—as well as decorative pendants, chandeliers, wall sconces, and accent lighting. It’s hard to believe how many older homes came with almost no lighting at all! There are a lot of bedrooms and living rooms out there with no hard-wired lighting, just one sad small lamp on a table, or a rickety torchiere lamp in the corner. As we all age, this issue will even become more important.

Accessible bathrooms for different ages and abilities

ICP_1235And speaking of aging, several of the baths I worked on last year included grab bars, ADA-height toilets, and walk-in showers. With many people hoping to live in their homes forever, thinking ahead to later years is extremely important. The good news is that accessible baths cannot only be functional, but can also be very beautiful. The variety of products available is amazing.

Removal of traditional medicine cabinets

In so many bathroom projects, we are removing the existing medicine cabinets to make space for more interesting storage options, such as tower cabinets on the vanity or recessed wall cabinets. Removing the medicine cabinets allows us to also add more interesting lighting as well, such as wall sconces on each side of the mirror. In cases where we do keep a medicine cabinet, we are installing more functional cabinets with pull-out magnifying mirrors, mirrors on the backs of doors, and even electrical outlets built in. I bet you didn’t even know there were so many options.

Painted kitchen and bathroom cabinets

ICP_1313Wood cabinets will never go out of style, but painted cabinets are definitely “in” right now. Most popular colors for painted cabinets right now: white and gray, although I’ve done several projects where we used black and other colors as well. Whole kitchens can be painted the same color, or you can use two colors. For example, painting upper cabinets white, with dark gray lower cabinets, or combining wood perimeter cabinets with a painted island. I don’t see this trend going away any time soon. Varying the finishes and colors really does add a lot of personality to the space.

Well-designed living spaces

ICP_5865What I mean by this is that more and more people are tired of feeling like their rooms are a random hodgepodge of hand-me-down furnishings or rooms filled with purchasing mistakes. An increasing number of people are asking for living rooms, family rooms, dining rooms and bedrooms that are professionally designed, with fabrics and furnishings that go together and are color-coordinated. I can’t tell you how many times people ask me to design “grown-up” living rooms – no matter what age they are! I’ve worked with young folks in their 20s and 30s, all the way to retirement age, and it’s a common request. Maybe it’s a result of too much HGTV, but whatever the cause, people really do want to feel comfortable and happy in their homes.

ICP_7353Interestingly, Benjamin Moore named “Simply White” their color of the year for 2016. Other paint companies like Sherwin Williams, Behr and Gladden have also listed versions of white in their their forecasts for 2016 and going forward. Why white? It’s part of a larger societal trend favoring simplicity and timelessness. White is recognized as a fantastic backdrop color— one that sets the stage for everything else that will be happening in the room.

ICP_5806White and all of its many iterations can be terrific wall colors— white with a hint of yellow, pink or peach can add so much subtle warmth to a space, while white with slight undertones of blue or green can cool off a room. White also sets off other colors beautifully— think of crisp white crown molding or a fireplace mantel contrasting with the deeper wall color behind it. But white is not just for trim and moldings— furniture, walls, window treatments, tile, and cabinetry all look terrific in tints, tones and shades of white.

Using white in your interior design allows you to be more adventurous with the other colors in the space. In one recent project, the client loved bold colors like purple, red and cobalt, so we used crisp white on most of the walls, then used those bold colors strategically on accent walls and even some ceilings to create a modern, “art gallery” type of look.

If you want a mix of colors, but don’t tend to like bold, bright hues, use white and creams, paired with light grays and tans to create a very elegant and restful interior. In another project, we used a variety of whites, creams and other soft neutrals for the fireplace mantel and tile, the finish on the chairs, the upholstery fabric, window treatments and area rug. The result is a beautiful, inviting living room that will stand the test of time.

ICP_7193White kitchen cabinets are hugely popular right now, as they coordinate with almost any other color and work in almost all design styles from contemporary to traditional. In this kitchen, the crisp white cabinets coordinate beautifully with the aqua blues in the backsplash tile and the quartz counters, while the wood floor and island add warmth and contrast to the space.

ICP_2827And there’s no way to go wrong with a white bathroom. White tile always looks clean and fresh, and you can add a lot of personality with wall color, window treatments, art and accessories.

Some advice to clients who are afraid of color: if you’re defaulting to white for your walls because you are afraid to take a leap and try color, please get over that fear! Most people love colorful interiors when they see them, and just need a nudge to try something new. That said, if you are intentionally choosing white for your interior design, then go with it wholeheartedly and don’t let anyone make you feel bad about it. If white is the color of the year for 2016, then you know you’re in great company.

Custom drapes and top treatment add softness and color to this living room, while offering privacy.

Custom drapes and top treatment add softness and color to this living room, while offering privacy.

If it’s time to update the window treatments in your home, please allow me to offer you some advice. With so many choices out there—from brands to styles to colors and materials—it can get overwhelming. But on the flip side, with so many choices available, there is no reason not to find the perfect solution for your windows.

As you are investigating your options, make sure to keep in mind functionality as well as beauty. For instance, do you like your room to be dark in the morning? If so, select a window treatment with a room-darkening lining. Some products are described as “black-out” or room-darkening; others are described as “light-dimming.” As you can imagine, “light-dimming” is just that—it dims the sunlight coming into the room, rather than blocking it completely. Only you can decide which option is best for your needs.

Another consideration is light control. Are you a person who opens the drapes each morning and closes them at night? If so, then a single-function window treatment is probably right for you. Examples of single-function coverings are drapes, honeycomb shades, Roman shades and roller shades—anything where the covering is either open or closed. These types are great for a number of reasons, but they offer no light control. Dual-function coverings offer light control options. Examples of this type are wood blinds, shutters, vertical blinds, and Silhouettes. With dual-function shades, you can have them completely open or closed, and also have the option of controlling the light by opening and closing the louvers or slats. This can be important for reducing glare on a TV or a computer, and also for providing privacy without blocking all of the light.

This Silhouette Window Shading offers light control, privacy and a beautiful soft look at this kitchen window.

This Silhouette Window Shading offers light control, privacy and a beautiful soft look at this kitchen window.

Some clients enjoy the clean lines of the blinds and shutters by themselves, while other clients choose to dress their windows even more with drapery panels and top treatments. Curtain panels, with or without a valance, add a beautiful finishing touch to your windows. Did you know that valances, draperies and curtain panels are more popular than ever? After years of plain windows, clients are back to embellishing their windows with layered window treatments.

If you have purchased new window coverings recently, you probably had some sticker shock over the prices. It’s not uncommon to spend hundreds of dollars on one window treatment, depending on the style and material chosen, of course. It’s true there are inexpensive options out there—wood blinds, for example, are quite affordable—but I’d like to caution you about purchasing inexpensive knock-off versions of more expensive brands. Knock-offs may be manufactured with inferior materials, leading to warping or fading, or simply not functioning properly. One important difference is the warranty on the product. Make sure to ask about the length of the warranty, and what is covered. How does the manufacturer handle any repairs that might be needed down the road? Is the shade reparable or are you out of luck if something goes wrong? It’s common for higher-priced brands to last years and years before needing any repairs. The most common repairs are for broken lift cords. And fortunately, those are relatively easy to deal with.

Plantation shutters provide privacy and light control, and are a timeless look for any room.

Plantation shutters provide privacy and light control, and are a timeless look for any room.

With inexpensive brands, the warranty may be for only two or three years; higher-end brands offer limited lifetime warranties. What does limited mean? It might mean that after 10 years, some repairs are still covered at no charge, while others might carry a nominal fee. Lifetime warranty can also mean that the blind will never fade or warp. One important note: while the manufacturer might cover the cost of the actual repair, installers will charge to come out to remove and replace the blind, and some dealers may charge a service charge for sending the blind back and handling the paperwork. Even with these charges, repairs should still be more economical than purchasing a new shade.

How long will you be living in your home? If you plan to stay awhile, invest in top-of-the-line window fashions. Even if you are planning a move in the next few years, it is important to know that beautiful custom window treatments can be a very attractive selling feature for your home.